Sep 14, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Trevor Bauer (47) pitches in the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
While the Tribe desperately tries to dig itself out of the hole Detroit put them in and keep the playoff battle alive, the Tribe’s young core is on the front lines. Home-grown players like Tyler Holt, Jose Ramirez, C.C. Lee, Lonnie Chisenhall,Kyle Crockett, Cody Allen, Jason Kipnis, Danny Salazar and TJ House are proving to be a powerful cavalry from the Tribe’s recent drafts and international free agent signings, while other young players like Trevor Bauer, Zach Walters, Carlos Carrasco, Corey Kluber, Carlos Santana, Yan Gomes, Michael Brantley, Bryan Shaw and Nick Hagadone are all young impact players who have had an impact recently and were acquired through trades. All of the aforementioned players are battling their hearts out to keep the Indians in the postseason picture, and all of them are under team control for at least another three years.
While it’s still just a faint hope that they can capture a wild card spot, these players have led the Tribe to a 26-18 charge since the start of August. That kind of performance would project a record of approximately 95-67 over the course of a full season; nearly a shoe-in for a playoff spot. While there are admittedly some flaws in that method of projecting a team’s record, the fact stands that the Indians have performed very well since the start of August, and there’s no reason to believe it’s a fluke. That same August and September Indians team is set to lose zero players to free agency this offseason, and has $20 million in payroll relief due to the departures of Asdrubal Cabrera and Justin Masterson.
For the next three years, the Indians have their entire starting rotation (which has posted a sub-2.30 ERA since the start of August) under cheap team control.. The same is true for every player in the infield, along with five members of its lights-out bullpen. When you include Brantley in left field, we can see that this team will not only be playing together for the next three years, but will likely improve at the rate of the standard development curve.
With all the talent on the field already, the amount of talent in the Indians’ farm system creates a very good problem. Though Francisco Lindor will likely come up at some point next year, the lack of holes on the team leaves many prospects without a clear path to the majors. Tyler Naquin, James Ramsey, Clint Frazier, Cody Anderson and Bradley Zimmer are all talented prospects who are likely blocked in the near future. This gives the Tribe a wealth of trade chips through which to acquire talent, but it also gives them the option to trade away proven major-league players near the end of their contracts, thus filling up their farm system for the years down the road. For example, if Cody Anderson is killing it in the minor leagues and spring training two years down the road, it gives the Indians the option to trade away Carrasco in his final year of team control. In such a move, the Indians would be able to take his salary (which will likely be very high through arbitration by then) off the books while adding top-tier talent to its farm system. The same can be said of a player like Brantley if Bradley Zimmer is blocked three years from now but looks promising.
I’m not saying the Indians should trade away Carrasco or Brantley as soon as there’s a prospect ready to take their places. What I am saying is that the Indians have put themselves in a very good position to not only contend for the next three years, but also to become a powerhouse in the AL Central for the next decade. The Tampa Bay Rays have used the strategy mentioned in the paragraph above to remain in contention with high payroll teams like the Yankees and Red Sox for years, and it’s feasible that, with the way the organization is running and the talent it has, the Indians could do the same.
And we still have three drafts between now and the end of 2017.